The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Research Institute’s own Philip R. Johnson, MD was consulted for a number of articles about an exciting new HIV vaccine study. The study, published in Nature and led by the Scripps Research Institute’s Michael Farzan, PhD, describes the research team’s creation of a new molecule that prevents monkeys from being infected with simian/human immunodeficiency virus (SHIV).
“What Mike [Farzan] has done very ingeniously is to develop a molecule that attacks HIV in two different spots … [and] is able to neutralize most if not all strains of HIV,” said Dr. Johnson in Newsweek’s article about the project.
Dr. Farzan’s work builds on research by Dr. Johnson. In 2009 he published a study in Nature Medicine in which he worked with simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV) — which is closely related to HIV, and occurs in primates — to develop proteins that act like antibodies called immunoadhesins. These proteins, which Dr. Johnson and his team delivered via adeno-associated virus (AAV) vectors, were designed to prevent SIV from infecting cells. They found the immunoadhesins blocked SIV infection, protecting the primates used in the study.
When the Nature Medicine study was published, Steven Douglas, MD, medical director of CHOP’s Immunogenetics Laboratory, said, “Dr. Johnson’s groundbreaking research represents one of the biggest, most significant findings in the history of research at Children’s Hospital. This approach represents a paradigm shift in HIV research.”
Dr. Farzan’s recent paper, meanwhile, explores the effectiveness of a protein his team created, eCD4-Ig, at protecting against SHIV, a hybrid of HIV and SIV. The researchers — who include the University of Pennsylvania’s Beatrice H. Hahn, MD — found AAV-expressed eCD4-Ig protected macaques against SHIV “for more than 40 weeks” against “several infectious challenges.”
According to the CDC, more than 1.1 million Americans were living with HIV at the end of 2010, and approximately 35 million people around the world are living with the disease. An estimated 39 million people have died of HIV/AIDS since it was first recognized.
Dr. Johnson told the Wall Street Journal that the molecule described by Dr. Farzan et al. “appears to be an extraordinarily potent molecule,” he said. “It’s further validating of the idea that we should be thinking in alternate terms about how to attack HIV vaccines. To me the nonhuman primate data are outstanding.”
And finally, speaking to Science, Dr. Johnson said eCD4-Ig “is a beautiful thing.”